St George’s mother helped save the life of her premature baby with Kangaroo Care
Elsie Dutton’s family had an agonising wait before they could hold her, but it was worth the delay.
The Duttons are now thrilled to have premature Elsie home from St George’s Hospital, where she spent her first five months battling for life.
The family’s hugs have extra significance for Elsie – born at just 23 weeks weighing 1lb 4oz – after her twin died in the womb. It was cuddles from mum Amy, 33, that helped save her life.
Amy was able to hold her newborn daughter for just 30 seconds before she was taken to an incubator. And at just 10 days old, Elsie had surgery to fix a hole in her bowel.
After a month in the incubator, doctors suggested Amy hug her baby, skin-to-skin, for around three or four hours a day.
Studies have shown such contact – known as kangaroo care – helps premature babies adapt to life outside the womb, protects them from infection and even cuts their time in hospital.
Amy said: “The first time I held Elsie properly was amazing, I’ve never known anything like it. There’s no other feeling in the world that compares. I’d hold her and I could see on all the monitors her heart rate was relaxing.”
For hours each day, Amy sat and held her tiny daughter close to her chest, cuddling her and watching her gradually grow stronger.
“Having to wait so long to hold her was really difficult, so when I did it meant so much,” Amy said.
“It’s crazy to think that me cuddling her was having such an impact – it saved her life.
“It was good for me too, because being able to hold her also helped bring down my stress levels.”
Bridal stylist Amy went into early labour when doctors tried to separate her twins. They were suffering from transfusion syndrome, where one baby receives all the nutrients.
Initially, doctors believed the procedure – an endoscopic laser ablation – had gone well. Then Amy started bleeding heavily and needed three blood transfusions. She said: “We lost Dotty’s heartbeat, then a few hours later I had lost so much blood that I went into labour at 23 weeks plus four days.”
When Elsie was born on December 2, 2021, weighing the same as a tin of soup, medics warned Amy and her husband Scott, 34, she may not survive. Amy said the time spent cuddling Elsie had been amazing but was also tinged with sadness. She said: “Losing Dotty was really difficult.
“Because it was before 24 weeks, I was never able to register her as a stillborn… she was classed as a miscarriage. That meant I wasn’t able to put on Elsie’s birth certificate that she was a twin either.
“Being able to have that on the paperwork would have given me some closure after going through something so difficult. We managed to get a commemorative certificate for her, and her ashes, which was really helpful for the grieving process. Her funeral was paid for by the First Touch charity. It was a really important day for us.”
The First Touch charity are based in St George’s Hospital, they support sick and premature babies and their families. They have funded 30 chairs that are used for Kangaroo care.
Last month, doctors said Elsie was finally strong enough to go home, to Barnsley, South Yorks.
There, she could finally enjoy plenty of cuddles with Amy and Scott, and her seven-year-old brother Charlie.
Amy said: “Bringing her home for the first time was honestly amazing. I almost didn’t think it was real – the day felt like a dream come true.
“I’ve never felt such a relief as when we got to walk out of the hospital and take Elsie home. It’s so surreal to hold your baby and think about how you could have lost her. Having her home after all that uncertainty was just bliss.”
It meant the family could put the months of anxiety behind them – worry which had come to a head when battler Elsie was just days old.
The operation she needed to repair the hole in her bowel, necrotising enterocolitis, was a risky one.
Even if everything went well, she would still be at risk of infection while recovering. Amy said: “We had no idea how long it would take because they wouldn’t know how much of her bowel had survived until they opened her up.
“We had to wait three hours. It was the longest three hours of my life. We were just constantly clock watching.
“It was the biggest relief when we saw her again. The surgeon said it went amazingly, the best-case scenario.”
Amy spent most of the week at the hospital with Elsie and glazier Scott and Charlie travelled to London at weekends to see them. Children were not allowed on the ward, so they were never able to be together as a family. But after four months at St George’s and one at Barnsley Hospital, Amy was able to bring Elsie home.
Amy said: “She’s defied all the odds… she’s just amazing.
“Just before we left, our doctor told me Elsie was the first baby she intubated that had survived. To think she’s overcome that and come away with no issues… we’re so incredibly lucky.
“Having her and Charlie together is so special. She’s really thriving.”
What is kangaroo therapy?
Research shows kangaroo care can help improve the lives of premature babies.
The World Health Organisation endorses the method, involving skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. It can cut mortality in hospitalised infants by up to 40%, according to a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Kangaroo therapy helps babies adapt to life outside the womb, improves sleep, protects against infections and prepares for breastfeeding, charity Tommy’s says.
Dr Sijo Francis, of St George’s Hospital, said: “When babies like Elsie are born prematurely, clinical intervention is key but parents’ involvement also has a hugely positive effect.
“When mothers hold their babies in their arms for a long time, stress for both mother and baby is reduced and we see improved short and long-term outcomes.”